From the packaging wrapped around your groceries to fibres in your clothing, plastic has coined itself as a popular material since its invention in 1869. While the versatile ingredient is undoubtedly bad for the environment, certain studies have linked it to poor health as well. Worryingly, a new study warns that newborns can ingest “harmful” microplastics from things they use on a daily basis.
Previous research has found that certain chemicals in plastic can leach out into the food you eat and beverages you drink.
What’s worse, some of these chemicals have been linked to health issues, ranging from reduced fertility to metabolic disorders.
However, the Food Standard Agency in the UK is supposed to ensure that all plastics used for food and drink are safe.
Looking at 37 articles about microplastics and nanoplastics in connection with pregnancy and childhood, the study found that microplastics can end up in household dust that children can ingest by playing and crawling on the floor.
Furthermore, the research team explained it is impossible to stop children ingesting the tiny plastic particles, as they can be found almost everywhere.
Newborns can ingest microplastics from baby bottles, toys, textiles and food packaging.
The “harmful” particles also may be in formula milk and even breast milk although this remains unknown.
The new study also found that microplastics have been able to cross the placenta into unborn babies.
Microplastics contain other harmful chemicals as well as plastic – think phthalates and metals added for colour, stabilisation or as a biocide.
Regulations for plastic in various goods, such as toys and baby bottles, vary across the globe. This means children get exposed to very different amounts of plastic depending on where they live.
Sadly, people living in poverty seem to have much greater exposure.
Study author Kam Sripada from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology said: “It’s quite possible that children are more exposed to microplastics than adults, similar to children’s greater exposure to many other environmental toxic chemicals.
“No one knows exactly how much microplastic a child ingests, but several studies now suggest that today’s children absorb microplastics in their bodies as early as at foetal age. This is concerning.
“Children do not have a fully developed immune system and are in a very important phase of their brain development.
“This makes them particularly vulnerable. Nano and microplastics are so miniscule that they can travel deep into the lungs and can also cross into the placenta.
“At the same time, they transport dangerous chemicals with them on their journey.
“That’s why we believe that nano and microplastics can be a health risk for children.”
Fortunately, parents can reduce the amount of plastic their children come into contact with by making sure their food is wrapped in as little plastic as possible, cleaning the house, choosing hygiene products with less plastic and choosing building materials that don’t contain PVC or other plastics when making home renovations.
The research team explained there’s need for more research into pregnant women’s level of exposure to various plastic substances, and how plastic can be transferred to the foetus.
Furthermore, they added there isn’t enough existing research about children’s exposure to the nasty plastics at school, in neonatal wards and through breast milk, breast milk substitutes and baby care products as well.